This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
Walking on a footpath of Ravindra Nath Tagore Marg, in Nagpur – the tiger capital of India, I saw a lady with a small voice recorder querying the people around her about something. Next to her was a man in typical journalist attire – a shirt and a pair of loose fitting cargos, with a sleeveless jacket over it. He was holding a camera and taking snaps. They seemed to be from the media and considering the looks of the lady, they were definitely from the print media. Television news channels rarely hired ordinary looking folk.
In a desperate need of publicity, I deliberately slowed down, as I neared them. Chhinka, who was walking beside me moved away hastily. He didn’t like the media.
The ugly lady noticed me and asked “Hey you, do you know who was our first prime minister?”
I realized that this was for some Republic day special column to be printed the next day.
“Ya…its..Pandit Jawaharlal Nehruji.”
Adding ‘ji’ was an attempt to be extra polite as I wanted to be in that column.
She said “Oh great, now tell me one word that links Nehruji and Love?”
On hearing that question, anyone would have replied ‘patriotism’, but for some unknown reason, I uttered “Rose”
-“Rose! That’s quite a different answer. Why Rose?”
Even I didn’t know the reason for that answer “Umm …”…but I knew that I was best in making answers out of nothing “Rose … you see Nehruji always use to put a red rose over his white jacket, close to his heart. I think it depicted his love … his love for his country.”
The reporter seemed impressed. I suppose, my way of saying that answer with a feeling of patriotism and the hand movements, keeping the spine erect like a leader, did the trick. So much that the ugly lady was gazing at me and I suppose was hoping for me to continue. But I had to stop as I was short of words “That’s it.”
– “Good thought.”
They then wrapped up their kit and were about to leave. I stopped the lady and asked “Excuse me ma’am, where will be this interview printed?”
-“If your words get selected, they will appear in tomorrow’s TOI with your picture.”
Whilst the lady was talking to me, the man next to her snapped my photograph and asked for my name and profession.
I replied “John Perrera. I am a still photographer.”
And then they left.
I continued towards my house near the end of the lane. It was on the first floor; a single room, partitioned with a curtain to convert the smaller part into a kitchen. Chhinka and I stayed there for a rent of 4000 Rs.
Climbing the wooden stairs, as soon as I entered the room, Chhinka shouted “Hey, why do you always speak to the media guys? You know that these people are not good for me. And by the way, let me remind you that you have to complete your Valentine’s Day project.”
“Oh ya, the last date for submission is 13th Feb. I tell you, this topic is really tough for me”, I replied
Chhinka, “Ok now, I will leave for work.”
-“Chhinka, we have to pay our rent soon. Be ready with your share. I don’t want our landlord to get annoyed. She was the only one who agreed to give her house on rent to two homeless 22 yr old guys.”
Chhinka “Yes … I know. I will try.”
– “What do mean you will ‘try’! It’s the rent. You will have to pay it, there is no option.”
Chhinka walking down the stairs “Ya ya … I mean I will give it.”
After some time, I went out with my SLR camera, in search of some good shots, that would suit Valentine’s Day, but hardly got any good pictures and when I came home, I was already tired, so I fell asleep in a second.
9th Feb 9 am
Though I didn’t have my dinner last night, I wasn’t feeling hungry, the reason being my eagerness to see my photo in TOI. To my surprise, Chhinka, had already brought the newspaper for me. Quickly rushing through the pages, scanning every part of every page, I finally found my face in a corner with some lines, my name and profession written next to it.
I felt like showing it to someone else, but there was no one except my room mate “Did you see this?”
He nodded, while sipping tea.
– “This is the kick start of my career. One day, I will be a great photographer.”
The moment I said that, Chhinka started sneezing heavily, which was usual for him, and also the reason his name was kept ‘Chhinka’, which meant ‘sneeze’ in Marathi.
But this was the wrong moment for the sneezes. It’s bad luck. Though I didn’t believe in such things, I felt like bashing him today. I moved towards him and as I was about to catch hold of his collar, he handed 2000Rs in my hand “Here is my share of the rent.”
I took it and calmed down “Good, by the way, from whose pocket has it come this time?”
Chhinka “A foreigner … careless people, they can’t acclimatize to Indian conditions.”
Chhinka was a talented thief, talented enough to make around six to seven thousand a month. I never questioned him about this, as sometimes this was an economic support for a struggler like me.
10th Feb 9 am
We were not routine drinkers, but that day he got some big, money loaded wallet. So, we decided to have some Vodka in our little place, with doors and windows closed, so that our landlord wouldn’t know.
Chhinka “So John, how’s your work going on?’
Me “Not good, you know na, I am least interested in these love topics, so I don’t have any idea as to what to snap for the Valentine Day project.”
Chhinka “Why re … ok … Just tell me today … here itself … right now … why you hate love. I mean, you don’t stare at girls; you don’t interact with much people … why?
“I don’t hate love yaar, it’s just that I am … scared of it.”, I replied, trying to change avoid the topic
“Scared! … why? Latex Rubber has been invented, my friend.” Chhinka winked.
– “Chhe, it’s not that. You know, when I was in fifth standard, I had a dog named ‘Blacky’. I loved him a lot. I used to be with him for most of the time. He used to sleep on my lap. Dogs don’t talk like us, but I could understand his moves. But then one day, he stopped eating. I tried a lot to feed him, but he used to keep his mouth tightly closed. I told this to my dad, to which he slapped me and kept me away from my dog. I kept crying the whole night. Next day, when I woke up, I ran to Blacky to see that he was totally cold and stiff. Flies were all around him. He had died. I cried for almost a week and even now, I can’t forget that sight.
My sorrows didn’t stop over here. When I was in 11th standard, my both parents died a railway accident. I wasn’t allowed to see their covered bodies. I wasn’t sad for my dad’s death … not at all, but my mother … she was my life. She too left me …
In the next few days, I involuntarily analyzed the reason for my grief, and I concluded only one thing that in both incidents, I felt sad because I loved them.
So, in the next few weeks, I found a way to avoid being unhappy by avoiding to love anyone. When I will not love anyone, obviously I will not feel sad if they leave me.”
Chhinka “Man, I am talli now, and kasam se…your funda is bouncer for me. achha leave it, tell me, did you have crush on anyone during college?”
Me “Yes, there was one girl … Rose D’costa. I liked her, but I deliberately avoided her.”
Chhinka “Why … now please don’t give me the same reason.”
Me “Ya, that’s the reason.”
Chhinka “Oh my God…achha sun, now the talks and vodka both are over, so lets sleep and good night.”
Saying that, Chhinka slept, but the talks left me with my memories, not letting me to sleep. I was swaying, sitting on my bed, but I wasn’t able to lie on it. Those constant irritating thoughts…those people in my life … those past events, weren’t allowing me to do so.
I lifted the final peg of vodka and drank it in one go, and finally I slept.
11th Feb 12 pm
I and Chhinka were at All Saints Cathedral church. The place was always full of tourists and thus surrounded by small stalls of books, toys, clothes and many more. But the place which was my favorite was the open space in the right side of the church, occupied by the pigeons. People fed grains to them.
Chhinka was busy with his work, looking for some prey, while I was looking for some lovely moments to snap.
Chhinka, who I think was finding it hard to show his talent in such an open space, came to me and said “John bhai, take the pictures of these pigeons, while they fly. It would make a nice pic.”
It was absurd for me to follow his suggestion, but I didn’t want to depress him by denying him, so I clicked a few shots, while Chhinka tried to make their wings work. We did that for some time, after which even the pigeons got frustrated and left the place, leaving the grains as it is. After that, Chhinka moved away and I got busy trying to take pictures of couples present there.
Suddenly, a lady started crying loudly “Somebody stole my mobile, please help.”
I could only hear her voice as she was surrounded by the crowd gathered to help her. But I knew the culprit was Chhinka, so I too vanished from the place.
After having lunch and evening work session, I came home and asked Chhinka “What brother, which mobile it was … the lady’s?”
Chhinka laughed “Samsung Wave.”
Giving a smiley nod, I moved to my computer table to copy today’s snaps. I did that and was tired to have a look at them, so shut down my computer and joined Chhinka in his celebration.
I was taking a look at yesterday’s pictures. They were good. But the photo that was glued to my eyes was those of the pigeons. I was startled to see those photos, not because of the pigeons, but because of the lady standing far behind the pigeons. She was Rose D’costa. I had seen her after almost 6-7 yrs, but still looked the same, as beautiful as she did in college.
Don’t know why, I felt like meeting her, at least once, to say her “Hello”. I quickly moved out of my chair to leave for church, but then I realized that I was being overanxious. So, I sat back on my chair. I stared at her photo, zooming it. There I got a clue to meet her. She was carrying a novel in her hand. It was ‘A tale of two cities’ by Charles Dickens. And then I recollected that there was only one bookseller in that nearby area, so I rushed to the church and then to that bookseller and inquired him about Rose showing him the photo. He said that she was the same girl whose mobile was stolen a day before. I felt sad after hearing that, but later, I was happy for it as I knew that the mobile thief was none other than Chhinka.
Sprinting from there, I came to Chhinka “Where is yesterday’s stolen mobile?”
Chhinka, with the mobile in his hand “Here it is, why?”
Me “Give it to me; I am going to the lady for returning it.”
Chhinka “Hey, why are you putting me in a problem. Why are you being so polite, suddenly. Police will trace me through you.”
Me “She is my college friend. Nothing will happen. I’ll tell that I got it somewhere…say in the train.”
Chhinka gave it to me “This is the first and the last time I am doing it, ok”
I took the mobile, inserted the sim card and called the last dialed number. It was ‘Rose 2’. I didn’t have the guts to say who I was. So, I pretended to be a stranger and told her to meet me near the church.
Chhinka “John, what about your Valentine’s Day project, is it done? Tomorrow is the last day.”
I nodded and left.
Walking through the lonely roads, in the cold day, I was thinking for the words to say her. I was going to meet her after such a long time. I was nervous.
When I reached the church, I saw that she was already there. She was dressed in blue jeans and a red winter jacket. She was looking cuter than earlier. She didn’t wear cap to cover her head, which was making me feel uncomfortable.
As soon as I reached near her, she recognized me and surprisingly asked “John..you here?”
I wanted to hug her in return, but involuntarily my hand stretched to give her mobile, handed it to her and without saying a word, I started moving back.
She stopped me “John, why are you scared. I want to say you something, something that I had told you earlier. You had denied it and went away without saying a word. But today, I want a reply from you. John, I love you and I know you love me too.”
I stayed silent and stood there.
She continued “John, now it’s enough. Why are you doing this to me? It’s been 6 years, but still I am not able to forget you and I suppose you too are not able to forget me.”
I had to turn to her after listening to those words. I quickly hugged her and kissed her on her lips. She didn’t resist me, we closed our eyes and her lips curled into a smile. We kissed each other till we opened our eyes. I looked in her deep affectionate eyes and confessed “I love you Rose, I had loved you since college days, but I was scared to tell you that because I was scared from the pain of losing you some day.”
“I knew that. I had to play this little drama of getting robbed, to help your feeling of love overpower your fear. If I would have directly approached you, you would have again denied me. So I took help of your friend Chhinka.”
Chhinka appeared from somewhere “Yes John, did you remember it was me who told you to take pictures. I knew that Rose was standing in the background.”
Me “But, when did you plan all this?”
Rose “On 26th January, in TOI newspaper, I saw your photo. After that, I contacted the reporter. She told me that she did the reporting at the Ravindra Nath Tagore Marg. I inquired a bit over that place and I got to know about your location. Then, I met Chhinka some days later and told him about us and further he helped me with the plan.”
I was really surprised to hear that. I saw at Chhinka “Yaar, thank you very much, I will pay half your share for the next months rent.”
Me and Rose laughed at that, while Chhinka seriously said “I am serious about the rent thing, you will have to keep your promise.”
“Waise John, what about tomorrow’s Valentine Day submission?”
Rose smiled. “Don’t worry”
Finally, my photo was selected for the largest space in the magazine by the senior photographer. It was all because of Rose. It was her idea of that awesome snap. Rose and I are happily spending every moment of our lives with each other and now I am not scared from love.
And talking about the photo.
It showed an old lady with an old man sharing the same shawl walking past the windy lane.
It depicted the fact that one day, they might not still be with each other. Love will always prevail, unaffected by any fear of separation.